The Philadelphia 76ers won’t know until next season what they have in rookie Nerlens Noel, but head coach Brett Brown has high expectations.
Brown spoke with the media before Saturday night’s matchup between the Bulls and Sixers, and said that watching film on center Joakim Noah is what he envisions Noel doing when he takes the floor next year.
“Every time I see Joakim, I hope I’m seeing what we get in Nerlens,” Brown said. “He’s one of the prime examples that I point to as we try to groom a young player.”
The Sixers selected Noel, who suffered a torn ACL last February while playing for the University of Kentucky, with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft, knowing it was unlikely he’d see the court while recovering from his injury.
Noel has ramped up his participation in practice, doing 4-on-4 scrimmages in the limited time the team has in between games during the stretch run of the season, but likely won’t see the floor – Brown said last week that a realistic goal was for Noel to participate in 5-on-5 scrimmages by the end of the season, which ends April 16.
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Whenever he does suit up for the NBA-worst Sixers, losers of a franchise-record 23 straight games, he’s likely to make an impact on the defensive end like Brown hopes. In 24 games for the Wildcats, Noel averaged 10.5 points on 59 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 2.1 steals in 32 minutes per game. Despite missing the last three weeks of the regular season, he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
Noel’s game isn’t all that different from Noah’s when the Bulls center came out of college. In Noah’s third and final season with the Florida Gators he averaged 12 points on 61 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals in 26 minutes per game.
Noel certainly has a long ways to go to reach Noah’s heights — two All-Star appearances and a likely top-5 finish in MVP voting this season — but if he can come close it would help a franchise in dire need of a spark on defense – entering Saturday’s action the Sixers were ranked fifth worst in defensive efficiency and allowed a league-worst 110.3 points per game.